By Ellen Wulfhorst
NEW YORK, Feb 24 (Reuters) - New York City has reached a tentative agreement with local rabbinical leaders regarding the Jewish circumcision ritual of direct oral suction in an effort to minimize health risks to infants, officials said on Tuesday.
The agreement aims to address health dangers associated with the ritual metzitzah b'peh, or MBP, which has been linked to a form of herpes that can be extremely risky to babies, city officials said.
In an MBP, a mohel who performs the circumcision uses oral suction to draw blood away from the wound on the infant's penis. The procedure is sometimes performed in ultra-Orthodox communities.
Under the agreement, the city will no longer require that a mohel obtain signed consent before the ritual.
In 2012, the New York City Board of Health voted to require mohels to obtain such consent, in which parents acknowledged the risk of herpes infection, after officials identified 11 cases in which infant boys contracted herpes simplex virus after circumcisions believed to include oral suction.
Two of the boys died.
Nearly three-quarters of adult New Yorkers are infected with the herpes simplex virus, most with no symptoms, but the infection is very rare in newborns, officials said in the statement.
In babies, it can cause serious brain damage or death, they said.
Rabbinical leaders sought to block the requirement of signed consent forms and a federal court in New York had been set to decide if the requirement infringed on the constitutionally protected freedom of religion.
Under the agreement, which must be approved by New York's board of health, hospitals and doctors will be asked to distribute information about the health risks.
If an infant is found to have herpes associated with an MBP, the rabbinical coalition has agreed to cooperate, for the first time, with health officials in identifying the mohel involved and ask him to be tested, city officials said.
If a mohel is found, by a DNA match, to have infected an infant with herpes, he will be banned for life from performing MBP by the health department, officials said.
"While the de Blasio administration continues to believe that MBP carries with it health risks, given the sacred nature of this ritual to the community, the administration is pursuing a policy centered around education of health risks by the health care community and respect for traditional practices by the religious community," the administration statement said.
(Editing by Peter Cooney)